It is truly odd how we always find ourselves in a bad mood at work and our productivity keeps decreasing as the week passes by. To be fair, we can’t keep blaming our colleagues, clients, or Monday for our rough day; sometimes it’s the chair we are sitting on, the fluorescent lighting above our computer, or the constant “chugging” sound of the printer near the desk.
Other than the fact that people spend about 70-80% of their time indoors, almost 9 hours of their day are being spent at work; and studies have indicated that the environmental quality of an office has short and long term effects on the comfort, health, and productivity of the people occupying it. While research on the comfort conditions of workplaces is still relatively minimal, we have put together a list of factors that have proved to be highly influential on the comfort of individuals in workplaces.
Thermal comfort is perhaps one of the most important and easily defined parameters of the indoor environment. While the human body tries to maintain an average temperature of around 37 C, thermal comfort is based on the adaptation of each individual with respect to various factors, such as geographic location and climate, time of year, gender, race, and age. Thermal comfort is influenced by six factors; four of which could be classified as environmental parameters: air temperature, mean radiant temperature, air relative humidity, and air velocity; and two classified as personal factors: human metabolic rates and insulation through clothing .
The acoustic comfort of interior spaces is the ability to protect occupants from internal and external noise (airborne sounds, noise from adjacent spaces, noise from office equipment and sound of nearby facilities...), and offer an acoustic environment suitable for the function of the workplace; for instance, it is natural to expect a noisy environment in a steel factory, but not the same in an advertising agency. The layout of the space is also significant when it comes to acoustic comfort. As open-plan offices dominate, issues of acoustic comfort and privacy have also been identified as influential on the employee’s productivity. Three strategies that have been proposed for noise prevention are: absorption of sound using ceiling tile, blocking of sound using workstation panels and workspace layout, and covering up of sound using electronic sound masking techniques . There is also an impact of geometry on acoustic comfort; If the area is square then the acoustic comfort is higher; However, when one has a long and narrow kind of space then the spaces creates a bowling-alley-kind of effect where sound bounces between the two walls creating more noise for the occupants. The use of underfloor heating leads to elimination of carpets, which tend to absorb the sound ; the harder the material, the lesser is its capability to absorb noise.
If we were to describe it briefly, visual comfort defines lighting conditions and the views from one’s workplace. The architectural design of a space has a direct impact on office lighting, and the latter has a direct impact on the well-being and productivity of employees. Densely laid offices, as well as open-plan offices have proved to have a negative effect on the visual comfort of those working in the space, along with the geometry of windows, photometry of surfaces, amount of glazing, reflective material and furniture, etc…
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
Two strategies are being implemented in building designs to deal with the IAQ of workplaces. The first one is to increase the ventilation rate, which in turn reduces the percentage of air pollutants ; while the second is to reduce the source of pollution within and around the building. Recent studies have stated that increasing outdoor air supply in non-industrial environments improves the air quality and reduces the concentration of air pollutants . The rate of outdoor air supply should be proportional to the pollutants within the building; however, the amount of pollutants inside the building will vary depending on the load and number of individuals occupying the space. Research indicates that workplace discomfort is 30–200 percent more frequent in mechanically ventilated buildings .The use of natural ventilation has also proved to be beneficial, providing considerable energy savings from air conditioning systems . However, natural ventilation can also be harmful in cities where outdoor air pollution is high.
Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)
SBS is a compilation of health problems caused by factors that are often disregarded when it comes to indoor environmental quality. The closure of natural openings, use of construction materials that are not properly tested or certified, furniture, moulds, dust mites, allergens, and office equipment (printer, personal computer, etc...) are all factors that contribute to SBS. Employees with SBS include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headache, cough, wheezing, light sensitivity, gastrointestinal distress and other flu like symptoms .
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: USEPA, 2007. The EPA Cost of Illness Handbook. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.
: Brager, G., Borgeson, S., 2010. Comfort Standards and Variation in Exceedance for Mixed-Mode Buildings. Center for the Built Environment.
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